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soldier with small child

Welcome to module 11, where we will be reading Chapter 9: Families and Children, p. 302-339 and watching the video: The Business of Being Born. We will also have our third exam, due by December 5th at midnight. As always, you are encouraged to take this exam well before the due date to avoid technical problems that could interfere with your grade.

Chapter 9: Families and Children
This chapter overviews the various ways in which American families form through partnerships and if and how they bring children into the structure. There are many statistics and definitions of terms in this chapter that you should make note of for the exam, as many will be on it. For example, are more children born of married or unmarried parents? What percentage? What are rates of cohabitation? What are fertility rates and how are they measured? What do these measures signify? The demographics of American families are shifting for sure, and our job as sociologists is to note these changes, statistical measures, and underlying causes of these shifts. Many conservative commenters may  use such data in an alarmist fashion, but as sociologists, our job is not to place judgement, but understanding of change. How do the demographics of being single, of different racial/ethnic groups, and education levels shift family outcomes?

Adoption has had an interesting rise and fall in the U.S., and would make for an interesting student research website if any of you are interested. Before the 1960s, especially in the 1950s and earlier, women who became pregnant outside of married either faced a “shotgun marriage” or “went away” to a house for unwed mothers, where they sat out their pregnancy and then gave their baby up for adoption, because of the social stigma of the time. And of course, before Roe v. Wade, many women suffered through illegal abortions. As such stigma has loosened, women are more able to keep their babies. Currently, 2.1 percent of U.S. children, or 1.5 million, are adopted (310). 37 percent were adopted through the foster care system, 38 percent were adopted through private services, and 25 percent were internationally adopted. Which countries are such children adopted from?

Childfree or Childless?
Some individuals and families have no desire for children, or are unable to conceive. What are the various ways in which such outcomes manifest? Class and race dynamics played into this outcome as well. Approximately half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, especially among younger people. For low income communities, having children can represent the transition to adulthood, which is one means that is available when other economic means are not. Historically, having many children in agricultural communities was a way to provide labor and security for parents, and we continue to see this in many developing countries. For people in higher education and income brackets, they often choose to have far fewer children, because they become more of an economic liability and investment. For folks suffering from infertility, which can be roughly correlated with health, not having children can be a difficult experience, and many spend a great deal of money on infertility treatments. For others who may identify as childfree, they have no desire for children, or prioritize other things in their life.

The chapter overviews the different ways in which children’s living arrangements are managed. There has been a great change towards diversifying family formations. What does the chapter outline specifically? Families also transition into different forms through divorce and other means more often, during children’s formative years. Childhood itself has different outcomes when compared historically, across different demographic groups, or geographically. What are some examples? What are the class based inequalities that provide different living contexts for children? How does this impact their future?

Gay and Lesbian Parenting
When I teach this course face-to-face, I often invite Brian Frank to discuss his family, where he talks about being a gay dad, a foster-adoptive parent, in a transracial family. I have a video clip from his hour long lecture, cut down to a few minutes. Pleasue do watch this video. What are the different sociological factors in his story? You can comment on them in the comments section below.

The Business of Being Born
Birth: it’s a miracle. A rite of passage. A natural part of life. But more than anything, birth is a business. Compelled to find answers after a disappointing birth experience with her first child, actress Ricki Lake recruits filmmaker Abby Epstein to explore the maternity care system in America. (paid)

In the comments section below, feel free to write any comments or questions related to this module of the course. Highlight the statistics and information in the chapter and be sure to take the exam 3 before the due date. Best of luck!



Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 9.41.20 AM.pngWelcome to module 10: Relationships. During this section we will read Chapter 7: Love and Romantic Relationships, p. 224-256. We will also watch the video The Mobile Love Industry. Finally, you have your second discussion board posting number 2. See the discussion board for the prompt to write on and be sure to cite the chapter properly in your response, as well as edit your writing and respond to classmates’ posting.

Chapter 7: Love and Romantic Relationships opens with the idea of how social scripts (226) relate to our dating life: how we encounter mates in social spaces segregated by race, class and social status. How these interactions are scripted based on a normative concept of how such encounters should proceed (symbolic interaction theory). Such scripts are reinforced in our media, social expectations at large, and through the pressures of our peer and family groups. Most of us have the expectation of dating people that are similar to us in background and within a similar social location. How do you see this reflected in the world around you? What are examples of being outside the script (which point to the normative position of script behaviors)? Such scripts also contribute to our understanding of romantic love, which only recently a part of married coupling.

  • How has the script for dating changed over time?
  • Where did this phenomenon start (time and place)?
  • What are the consumer culture aspects of dating?
  • How is dating different for different racial groups? For different age groups?
  • How is the hook up culture a variation on the dating theme? Similarities and differences?

Paula England has contributed important research to the understanding of hookup culture, with important statistics. Please do watch the video:

dataclysm.jpgChristian Rudder is a founder of dating website. One of the interesting things that dating websites provide is detailed data about all interactions (and non-interactions) between individuals. This information can be even more truthful than how people see themselves. Rudder wrote his book Dataclysm: Who we are when we think no one’s looking, with his insider access to this information.  For example,while a person may say that they are non-racist in their mate selection, online dating interactions can demonstrate exactly who they do respond to and who they do not respond to based on various demographic factors. For an overview of the book, see the video below for the very interesting information on the ways in which people interact on online platforms.

Different Demographics and Concerns

Age. GLBT. Race. Gender. How do these demographic differences change aspects of dating life?

Age is a significant factor because it is related to the different places in life people may be at. While we may think of dating as relating to young people looking for their life partners, unencumbered with family and work responsibilities, we now have people dating at all time periods of their lives. Therefore, they may be balancing divorce, heavy workloads, family responsibilities, at the same time that they are dating potential mates that may be incorporated into their already busy lifestyles.

For GLBT individuals, their dating pursuits are tempered by ongoing discrimination, social invisibility, and the overwhelming landscape of heteronormativity. Individuals may be more or less out about their identities, but the general default is to assume everyone is heterosexual, and this will cause difficulties for GLBT folks to express their dating interests and partners.

Gender is a significant factor in the dating world because of the gender scripts that individuals play. For GLBT folks, this can provide more freedom and space for behavior, but some couples also still revert to butch/femme style behaviors and presentations. However, the research demonstrates that GLBT research provides the most potential for equality between partners. How are individuals’ gender presentations scripted in dating relationships? How about their physical presentation through dress and behavior, for reinforcing gender roles?

Race is an important factor in dating, because our larger social context is one within a culture of white supremacy and self-segregation. Overwhelmingly, people choose partners with similar backgrounds, especially when it comes to race. On page 250-251 the data image shows how likely each racial group member is to date someone of the other races. Only whites have a high 61% rating for dating other whites, while for Asians and Latinos, they are also more likely to select whites before their own group members, who are second. Only blacks are most likely to date a member of their own race because choosing whites secondly, and this may be based also on the extreme anti-black racism in our culture.

 The Mobile Love Industry (video)
The smartphone has become the crucial link in modern relationships, it facilitates far more connections than real-world interaction ever allowed — from dating app geniuses who use data and game theory to hack the system, to the darker side of digital love, where app addiction runs rampant and users find themselves endlessly swiping in an empty search for more. Karley Sciortino will take on the task of determining where the human search for love is headed in the 21st century. She’ll meet with the brains behind these dating apps and try each of the most promising apps out using her own love life as a testing ground.

After reading through and watching these videos, please turn to your assignment on the discussion board and answer prompt 2 in as detailed and thoughtful manner as you can.



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Young, white, heterosexual couple kissing and holding baby

Welcome to Module 9: Sexuality (Nov 14-20). In this section we will read Chapter 6: Sexuality, p. 186-223. We have an assignment: First draft of your research website. On the discussion board thread, reply to your original post with your abstract, and add the link to your wordpress blog page or post by November 20th. And we have a feature length documentary to watch: How to Lose Your Virginity

Description: How To Lose Your Virginity is an eye-opening and irreverent documentary journey through religion, history, pop culture and $30 internet hymens. By turns hilarious and horrifying, the film reveals the myths and misogyny behind virginity in America, and what we can do to change the conversation.  A film by Therese Shechter, director of I Was A Teenage Feminist

Sexual Identity and Orientation


a chart listing various sexual orientations

The first concept that the chapter covers is the idea of sexual identity and orientation. Our understanding of sexuality is heavily dependent on our social context: time period, country, nationality, geographic location, social class, race/ethnicity, and gender orientation. How does the social location of your time and place create a different understanding of sexuality compared to your parents or grandparents generation? In our contemporary era, we have different options available than those available to other people in different times and places. “Sexual orientation is the pattern of romantic or sexual attraction to others in relation to one’s own gender identity. The pattern of attraction exists on a continuum that ranges from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual, with variations in between that represent degrees of bisexuality” (190). However, even with this range providing bisexuality as the widest category, people still are socially pressured to chose limited categories, such as straight or gay. It is important to remember that sexual orientation is different than behavior. One can be attracted to certain types of people long before they have any sexual activity. And one’s sexual activity may not represent one’s actual attractions. Therefore, things can get quit complex, and in our society, we often like to be very simplistic and reductionist when it comes to these concepts. But as sociologists, we should revel in the complexity of possibilities. (Be sure to memorize the various statistics in the chapter, as that will be the basis for the exam.) When did you first realize your sexual orientation and who you were attracted to? I remember my first crush as a small child on someone my parents had hired to work in our house for a short amount of time. The feelings were intense enough that I remember them to this day. But when I looked at a picture of myself at that age I was shocked: I must have been around three years old.

Modern Intimacy

The chapter discusses ways in which society tries to control, define, and maintain “acceptable” sexuality, and this is always heteronormative, chaste, and based on a gender double standard. The U.S. is an extremely religious country, especially compared to our counterparts in Europe, which has more progressive attitudes and policies regarding sexuality, with far better outcomes. Because of such dominant ideology coupled with a lack of actual historic research about the reality of people’s sex lives, we knew very little until the research conducted by Kinsey. You are encouraged to watch this feature film about Kinsey, but not required.

  • What were the outcomes of this Kinsey research? What is the Kinsey scale?
  • What are the statistics on sexual behavior in the chapter for different age cohorts?
  • What is the sexual double standard and what are examples?
  • Is teen sex more or less prevalent now than 20 years ago?
  • Is teen pregnancy up or down compared to 20 years ago?
  • Which contraception is most common?
  • What are the use percentages of contraceptions?
  • What is the timeline of contraception development?
  • What do contraceptions focus more on women than men?
  • What data did the federal government discover in its national survey on youth sexuality?
  • What are the statistics around sexually transmitted infections?
  • What is the state of sex education in the U.S.? How does this compare to other countries?

In the comments section below, please do write a response to one of the questions for review on page 223. What stands out to you about the chapter? Does it relate to your peer group?

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girl with many pink toys spread before her

Welcome to Module 8: Gender (Nov 7-13). In this section, we will read Chapter 5: Gender, p. 148-185.


The chapter beings with an overview of some key concepts that distinguish a spectrum when it comes to understanding sex and gender. Be sure you can distinguish and define:

  • sex
  • gender
  • gender identity
  • sexual identity
  • gender expression
  • intersex
  • transgender
  • socialization
  • symbolic interaction
  • gender socialization

For the purposes of sociologists, we focus more on the socialized aspect of gender performance, rather than the chromosomal background of individuals. Men and women are more alike than different, but our culture emphasizes differences, and individuals behave in ways that reinforce gender differences. Why? How are people both socially encouraged to behave in this way and socially sanctioned when they do not?


Feminism is the social movement and ideology that advances the social and political (etc.) rights for women to be equal to that of men. Equality, not supremacy. From this premise, feminism goes on to analyze all aspects of our culture and pays particular attention to inequality, especially in relation to gender, but not exclusively so. Most importantly, we must think of power once again, and how power manifests itself in gender dynamics. Patriarchy is a social system which has privileged the roles of men in society, and handed this down through sons. For those use to being in privileged positions socially, equally can feel like oppression.


Recently in gender studies, masculinity and its social roles has been the center of much research. This research points out the ways that men are socialized into a very narrow parameter of acceptable gender behavior, compared to that of women. The video Tough Guise demonstrates the way in which media frames masculinity, and how this impacts real men and boys, as well as women and girls.

Interactive Circles of Socialization

The author, Philip Cohen, talks about the various circles of socialization that direct us to proper gender behavior from the day we are born, if not earlier. Think of all the pink and blue gender defined toys in the story, and how parents color the rooms of children. How do siblings reinforce gender norms in the household? How does age factor in? Once a child leaves the closed parameters of family life, social institutions influence the individual: schools, peers, religion, activities, neighborhoods, television, video games, and so on. How would you describe the specific ways in which all of these institutions and groups socialize younger members? What are examples of someone being socially sanctioned out of behavior deemed inappropriate? Has that happened to you? Have you been one of the socializing agents in this process?

Gender at Work

nwlc_nontraditional_jobs_women-e1445229619847-900x446Because of these socialized divides and stereotype along the lines of gender; how does this create real outcomes in the economy and the world of work? How does this position men and women differently in relation to their property ownership, wealth, income, and inequality? What percentage of the earth’s property do women own? Which jobs are the most gender segregated and how is that maintained socially, if gender discrimination is illegal? What are female dominated professions? What are the different outcomes when a woman enters a male-dominated field, compared against a man that enters a female-dominated field? What are the salary outcomes for men and women? What percentage of wages do women earn, compared with men in comparable fields? How does this impact status?

What does it mean when people say that raising children is the most important job in the world, yet it remains unpaid, and when it is paid, it is low level service work?

In the comments section below, write an optional response about your observations of gender socialization in the daily world around you? Answer one of the review questions listed on page 185, as they will appear in some form on the exams and discussion board.

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girl student eating lunch

Welcome to Module 7: Work and Families (Oct 24-30). During this section, we will read Chapter 11: Work and Families, p. 378-413, and take exam 2 before November 6th at midnight. As always, you are encouraged to take the exam well before this date to avoid technical glitches.

The chapter opens with several examples of how children from different socio-economic backgrounds have different relationships to food security and nutrition. It reminds me of the NYTimes article:  What Kids Eat for Lunch Around the World, which uses the sample of lunch content to demonstrate diversity of experience of a particular age-cohort globally. How does your morning breakfast reflect your social location in the globe, thinking of such factors as race, ethnicity, citizenship, social class and geographic location? How many institutional factors are behind the content of our breakfast?

Why does the author separate work into the categories of market, care work and house work, and what are the social and structural implications of each one, especially in relationship to the government and economy? The Gross Domestic Product definition:

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the broadest quantitative measure of a nation’s total economic activity. More specifically, GDP represents the monetary value of all goods and services produced within a nation’s geographic borders over a specified period of time.

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Book cover of “The Second Shift” by Arlie Hochschild and Anne Machung

This means, that if a woman does housework and care work in her home, her labor will not register on the GDP. But if she walked across the street and did the same type of labor for her neighbor for pay, then this same work would be recognized in the GDP. This provides a sample for the idea of price range of women’s household labor, for arguments such as if and how much women should be paid for their domestic labor. Therefore, we can see that the GDP only narrowly defines and captures labor data. This is why the idea of the “second shift” was coined, in which women come home after a day in the marketplace as an employee, just to come home and put in more labor, but this time, unpaid. On page 383, there is a chart demonstrating the change in women’s participation in the paid workforce, what have these changes looked like for the three different groups examined? The chapter talks about the increase of women working while they are pregnant and who are back to work within 12 months of giving birth. What is the legal requirement for women’s paid time off during pregnancy and how does this compare to women in Canada or Europe? How does this provide more insight behind the numbers? The United States is a complete outlier when it comes to women’s paid time off after having children, one of the few nations in the world that does not provide paid leave. What accounts for this? And how much paid leave do our European counterparts receive? What accounts for that? The chapter spends a good amount of time focusing on ways to measure, understand, and justify the gender imbalance in the household. What is this argument? How does this relate to what you witnessed between your own parents? And their parents? How does the author, Philip Cohen, suggest these problems can be rectified institutionally? How does being single factor in compared to working married heterosexual couples? Why do women more often give up their job, over their male partners? How do same sex couples different in these divisions of market and household labor? How do different racial groups?

The U.S. continues to have high rates of occupational segregation between genders, races, and socio-economic levels, with a very low rate of upward mobility, contrary to the stereotype of the “American dream.” The U.S. is now more rigidly defined by social class than England.

Childcare costs have exploded. How does this impact the American family? In some places, childcare now costs as much as college tuition. How does this aggravate the class inequality?

You can write an optional comments in the section below about these gender and class divisions in the workplace and with income levels. How can the government provide institutional support to shift certain dynamics? How are other countries doing a different jobs than we are? What accounts for these differences, between similarly economically situated countries?


Welcome to Module 6: Families and Social Class (Oct 17-23). For this section, we will read Chapter 4: Families and Social Class, p. 112-145 and watch two documentaries: Born Rich and Inequality for All.

Assignment: Due Oct 23. Abstract and list of 5 academic references for your research website on Abstract 150 words outlining the social issue related to the family, your argument, the significance of the issue. Include 5 academic sources listed properly in Chicago, MLA or APA style. Post on discussion board thread with title of your topic.

(As always, you are encouraged to work ahead of the schedule, in order to build a buffer into your schedule for the semester. Late work will not be accepted, no matter the reason. Therefore, try to turn assignments in early, in case something comes up with your other classes or in your personal life.

Chapter 4: Families and Social Class

The chapter starts out with the documentary by Jamie Johnson called Born Rich (2003). The heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical empire, Jamie Johnson, points his documentary lens in the direction of some privileged children who stand to inherit millions in the not-so-distant future. Johnson manages to pry revelations from heirs with some famous last names – Trump, Bloomberg and Vanderbilt, to name a few. They speak frankly about money, family pressure and their often extravagant lifestyle. Please watch the entire documentary on YouTube or on google for a small fee.

What are the complicated relationship to social class and mobility among the various family members? The author, Philip Cohen states that if a doctor marries a nurse, or a wealthy man married a woman from a lower economic background, do they share the same class level and power within the family? What happens after divorce?

How do the two different theories–consensus and conflict perspective–rectify our understanding of social class in the U.S.? Which theory do most sociologists use to understand the social divisions around us?

Families in their Social Classes


Philip Cohen describes two different families to present a portrait of the rich and the working poor. He cites Katherine S. Newman’s book No Shame in My Game: The Working Poor in the Inner City. You can see a video of her discussing her research here. How do these portraits demonstrate how social relationships keep individuals within the web of their social class? How do family and peer influences lead you to choose the college you attend, or the job you pick, or actually get? How did these social class webs impact the lives of your parents and grandparents? Which generation do you see had more upward mobility potential? And how do these individual family examples relate to the larger picture of social class in the United States? Are things getting more or less equal now compared to the last 100 years? Look up statics to understand this larger context.

The chapter overviews and provides examples for key words, which are important for us to understand. Social class is more than just one’s income level. What other factors are significant in expressing social class location? Be sure to understand and be able to define the following key terms:

  • class identity
  • the Gini index
  • poverty line
  • social class persistence
  • social mobility
  • concerted cultivation
  • accomplishment of natural growth
  • division of labor
  • exploitation
  • social capital

Please also watch the feature length movie Inequality for All (2013), a documentary that follows former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich as he looks to raise awareness of the country’s widening economic gap. This movie will overview and describe in detail the concepts overviewed in the latter half of the chapter and really help our understanding of rising inequality and social class persistence.

Compare and contrast the two documentaries and the information in the chapter. In the comments section below, leave an optional comment about your thoughts on this material. How does this apply to your own family life? What information on social class would  you add to your sociological autobiography? How do you see social class in the world around you? What social class worlds are you navigating in your own life?

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paper doll family

Welcome to Modules 4 & 5 on Race, Ethnicity and Immigration. The materials for both modules 4 & 5 will be on this one blog posting, but please be aware that there are two assignments spanning these two modules: The first Blackboard exam is due before October 9th, midnight, and the first discussion board writing assignment for prompt 1 is due by October 16th, midnight. As always, you are encouraged to complete assignments way before the deadline. You are responsible for turning in your assignment on time, regardless of technical difficulties.

Module 4: Race & Ethnicity (Sept 26-Oct 2)
Chapter 3: Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration, p. 72-109
Assignment: Blackboard exam 1 (Oct 3-9)

Module 5: Immigration (Oct 10-16)
Chapter 3: Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration, p. 72-109 (cont.)
Video: Documented (2014) (watch entire feature length)
Assignment: Discussion board posting 1: “prompt”

Chapter 3: Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration


Transracial family portrait

How does the author, Philip Cohen, define race, while arguing that “biology doesn’t support the classification of people into races” (75)? What is the foundation of our contemporary understandings of race and how does it enact itself in our culture? In the first chapter, the sociological theory called “symbolic interaction” is a good beginning for understanding race. How is this understanding of race established by our historical and institutional processes that define race? What are they? How has the U.S. Census been a party to the construction of racial boundaries (76-7)? How has it changed over time? What are the current racial demographic numbers in the U.S. according to the Census? How does white racial identity relate to our historical and social understanding of race? What does it mean to be white in North America? How are mixed race people classified and understood in this context? (You can optionally address some of these questions in the comments section below in order to practice writing on this topic for our first assignment on the discussion board due October 16th by midnight.)

American Indians


picture of children playing at water spigot 

“By 2010, there were 2.5 million American Indians counted by the census. That number rises to 5.2 million if we include those who self-identify as American Indian as well as another race” (83). Therefore, American Indians make up less than 2 percent of the entire population. “The largest tribes today are the Cherokee, Navajo and Choctaw, who together account for 40 percent of those American Indians who specify a tribal identity” (84). Historically, during the colonial period, as we saw in the history chapter, American Indian culture was disrupted by white Christian institutions, which set out to break indigenous cultural practices and replace them with white structures, and those was most intimately done through boarding schools and placing indigenous children with white foster families. Native American children today are three times more likely to live in foster homes than other racial groups. By 2010, 22 percent of American Indians lives on reservations or tribal lands, which can be very high in poverty levels. Many social and health issues related to poverty are very prevalent in trial lands and within the population in general: obesity, diabetes, alcoholism, family disruption, early death, suicide, and domestic violence. Indian-owned gambling facilities have provided an income for such communities, generating $25 billion in revenue.

African Americans


Historic photo of black industrial workers

Historically, African Americans came to the U.S. through the institution of slavery, which broke the cultural connections with African traditions, languages, and religions. This disrupted family life and cultural continuation. Structural racism since slavery, and continuing today, has impacted the larger African American community, which has shaped the formation of family life. Because many men were unable to get jobs that would support their families, women were often required to work and contribute to the household income; compared to white women who were idealized for being able to be a full time housewife. Many men had to travel in search of work, leaving behind wives and children. After WWI, many workers, around 6 million, left the south in what has been called the Great Migration. Industrial jobs, providing a family wage for those without a college education, was a great boost for the middle class. However, residential segregation was rampant, with the government and industry participating in redlining (racially discriminatory mortgage and housing policies). Manufacturing jobs reached one third of the job market in 1960, and by 1990 it was down to one fifth of workers, and today, it is just one-tenth of jobs. This decline especially hurt black communities. Currently, there is a large black middle class, yet, overall, poverty persists. African Americans have the highest rates of poverty of any major racial-ethnic group. Poverty impacts all aspects of live, including diminishing the marriage rate, as marriage currently is viewed as a crowning accomplishment after financial security is established to some degree. Men without jobs do not provide good prospects for marriage, as women will consider having to take care of their spouses, on top of any children they may already have. In 2011, while 52% of the total population was married, about 32% of the black population was married. Besides lack of employment, imprisonment impacts one out of four black males, with the subsequent rippling effect that impact those family and community members related to the individual. Thus, a great deal of black children are impacted by having an incarcerated parent. Therefore, extended families, and grandparents, become important support for taking care of children in the situation of absent parents.


“At more than 50 million, Latinos are the largest minority group in the country and quickly growing” (93). The majority are Mexican origin (63 percent), followed by Puerto Ricans (9 percent) and Cubans (4 percent). However, there are Latinos in the U.S. from all of the central and south american countries, with varied histories of coming to this country. For example, what historical conditions create these top three groups of immigrants listed? And of course, Mexicans have been a part of this country from the very beginning, as the southwest was originally part of Mexico that was annexed by the United States after the Mexican-American War in 1848. “Puerto Rico was also annexed–first as a U.S. colony and later as a partly self-governing commonwealth–when Spain ceded the island to the United States in 1989” (93). Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917. After WWII, many of them migrated to New York and New Jersey in search of work. Because of the differential history with colonialism and segregation in Latin American countries, their understanding and relationship to racial and cultural mixing is different than the white dominated U.S. with its history of strict racial segregation, outlawing such practices as interracial marriage until 1977.

Asian Americans

Today the U.S. population is 6 percent Asian. The largest groups are the Chinese (23 percent), the Philippines (20 percent), and Indian (18 percent) (97). Because of restrictive immigration policies and decades long wait lines, immigration slots are mostly reserved for professionals, students, or family members of people already established, this contributes to the stereotypical idea of “the model minority.” Confucian religious background contributes to an emphasis on schooling, related to the historical Confucian exam system. Only 3 percent of Asian Americans drop out of high school, compared to 8 percent of the total population. But this association of Asians with schooling is more likely an association between class privilege and educational access and achievement. Also think about how geography plays into immigration, with Asians at such far away distances that it becomes very difficult for them to gain access to the U.S. compared to Latin America, which is closer and shares a land border.


“At 13 percent, the proportion of the U.S. residents born in another country is higher than it has been since 1010” and if you include Americans whose parents were born elsewhere, it is twenty-five percent (100). Immigration laws are central in shaping the demographics of various immigrants groups. The 1965 change in policy was a federal shift that moved away from maintaining quotas of different racial groups so that whites would maintain certain percentages. Be sure to overview and understand the significance of the following laws and policies:

For our class assignment, please watch the feature length version of Documented (2013). [On the movie website you will be able to purchase the DVD or a digital copy for rent or purchase. You may also be able to search for the movie online.] In this documentary it follows Jose Antonio Vargas, who began his immigrant journey at age 12, when he was sent to the United States from the Philippines by his mother to live with his grandparents in Mountain View, California. After attending San Francisco State University, Vargas pursued a print journalism career — landing jobs at newspapers in San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York City, and Washington D.C. for the Washington Post — all the while, managing to keep his true citizenship status a secret.

You can find the video on Netflix:

Besides immigration restrictions, the U.S. government restricted racial groups from intermarriage as a means of keeping the white race pure. All states enacted rules against whites marrying other racial groups. There were also hypo descent laws, or one-drop rule, where only whites without any other “blood” of different racial groups were considered white. This would force mixed race individuals to identify as their non-white descent, or else “pass” as white. It was not until the Supreme Court case ironically named Loving v. Virginia, that these bans on interracial marriage were struck down in 1975.



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Victorian family portrait

Welcome to Module 3: History of the Family (Sept 19-25). In this section we will read Chapter 2: The Family in History, p. 32-68 and watch the video The Way We Never Were (2010) by Stephanie Coontz.

Coontz is a faculty member at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and the director of research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families. She has published extensively on the topic of marriage and family life and is the author of several highly praised books, such as The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap and Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage. [Please note that the following video is a lengthy lecture. You are free to view the video in shorter segments, come back to it over time, and pause the playing.]

This section of our course overviews the historical background to our understanding of American families and how we can understand the family as an institution.

Family Types and Terms

The chapter sets out to define different anthropological terms of different family types. Be sure that you can define all of those variations:

  • Monogamy
  • Polygamy
  • Patrilineal
  • Matrilineal
  • Patrilocal
  • Matrilocal
  • Patriarchal
  • Matriarchal

Origins of the American Family

Colonial America (before 1820)
“From the settlement of Europeans through the early nineteenth century, American family history was primarily the story of three interrelated groups: American Indians, White Europeans, and African Americans” (39).

The clash between White European settlers attempting to dominate a land occupied with indigenous peoples was a bloody battle of occupation. Europeans established their institutions and families structures, and Native Americans were forced into these traditions through boarding schools and enforced Christianity. Their own practices such as language, religion, and family traditions were banned. The chapter points out that a prominent aspect of Native families was that many were matrilineal, where people were primarily considered descendants of their mothers rather than their fathers (40).

For the White colonial people, marriage was a practical arrangement, more for bringing people together to work and survive together, not about love and affection. Women came with a dowry, which was desired almost as much as the wife was. Women provided labor and were completely dependent on their husbands, establishing a situation ripe for abuse. When a woman was married, she no longer had any rights at all, “under the legal doctrine of coverture, which meant that the wives were incorporated into their husbands’ citizenship” and he had complete legal control over her (41).

Children were desired more for their labor than their future prospects. Children worked in the home, on the family farm, or were leased out to work for other people (41).

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Covered of book: Killing the Black Body, by Dorothy Roberts

Blacks, stolen from their lands in West Africa, were brought to the country as slave labor, where their ability to structure their own families was broken. Slave owners could trade and sell slaves regardless of their relationship to other members. Indeed, they were often raped by slaves selected by the owners, in order to selectively breed, as well as raped by the owners themselves, as they were his property, as much as his white family was. Dorothy Roberts overviews how black bodies were used in the beginning of the century in many medical experiments, as forced labor in prisons as well as plantations, and sterilized against their will later on, in her book, Killing the Black Body.

The Emerging Modern Family (1820-1900)

Great changes took place during the emerging modern period, as the country transitioned from the colonial past into the industrial period. Men and women maintained roles that were more and more separated under this economy, coming to be called “separate spheres” (43). How does the author detail the conditions of separate spheres? How did it develop?

For Asian and Mexican migrants, they were put to work as laborers, but often not allowed to bring women with them (for Asian workers), so that they would not put down roots in the country and were expected to leave. Many anti-Asian laws were established to keep them from becoming citizens, marrying whites, or bringing over women.

The Modern Family (1900-1960s)
“In 1900, the typical man married at about age 26, and the typical woman at 22” (53). Men would work and perhaps become boarders with another family that rented rooms, while women would stay with this family until they married. Towards the end of this time period, men were given a family wage, which rather than being the norm, was an usual time in out history overall, but became an expectation that we still think of as a standard from which we are slipping.

 New Family Diversity (1960s-Present)

Since this time period, the chapter overviews many changes that have transpired within the American family. What are they and how did they develop? Define:

  • The Baby Boom
  • changes in household technology
  • social safety nets
  • women’s legal and economic rights
  • changes in household demographics
  • the role of children in the family

OPTIONAL comments: 
In the comments section below, write your response to the chapter and questions you would have for your classmates. What stood out to you? How does this history reflect, or not, your own family history?

Welcome to Module 2: How do Sociologists Look at the Family? (Sept 12-18). In this section, we will read Chapter 1: A Sociology of the Family, p. 2-29.

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1: A Sociology of the Family

Chapter 1: A Sociology of the Family opens with a discussion of how very divergent individuals have discovered each other through DNA tests. Even though they identify as different racial groups or come from very different communities, such DNA tests bring them together based on very distant relatives, making us question: what makes a family? The opening also talks about the importance of pets for American families, even virtual ones that have been created to keep seniors company. Has your family taken a DNA test? does your family have a pet that you consider family? What percentage of American families have the same pets that you do? We want to make sure that we include statistics in our autobiography, as they help us understand the percentage of the population that relates to various demographics that we fit into. Always make a note of the statistics in the textbook, as the exams will focus on this type of information. For example, what percentage of people live alone, according to the textbook?

“In the simplest definition, families are groups of related people, bound by connections that are biological, legal, or emotional” (4). However, the textbook talks about what the label “family” means to people when they refer to individuals outside of the legal definition, what does it say? The author defines the family into three different types. What are these types and their definitions? What are the legal implications of these various definitions?

The U.S. Census

Understanding the work of the U.S. Census is centrally important for sociologists, because this provides the main government collected statistical information that we have on American families. The section in the chapter on the U.S. Census (p. 9-11), tells us that the U.S. Constitution in 1789 ordered that the population be counted every ten years, which is a huge feat for a country as large as ours. In 2010, the Census cost more that $13 billion and employed more than a million people (p. 9). How has the Census defined families, and who was left out of the definitions? What other demographic information is not captured by the Census questions, such as mixed race people? Has your family ever answered the Census?


Image of a diverse family comprised of multi-generations and genders.

The Family as an Institutional Arena

The family is an institution, just like the military or the government or the church. This means that there are standards of expectations created and this institution interacts with other institutions, and creates expectations for individuals’ behavior. How does your family both conform, and not conform, to the typical expectations of family and the various roles that each member plays? How has your behavior as the child in the family both upheld family expectations, as well as challenged them?

How have the other social institutions impacted with your own family, as the chapter discusses in relation to the state and the market (economy)? How has religion, the military, or the health care industries impacted your family and its history? Incorporate this into the discussion on your sociological autobiography.

The Family in Sociological Theory

Sociology has a foundation in theories established by theorists prominent at the very beginning of the discipline, over a hundred years ago. These theories provide a framework for sociological understandings and approaches, and so it is important to understand what these theories are and apply their in your understanding of the social world. Do any of these theories help explain your own family dynamics? How do these theories provide insight into your own life that you may not have considered before?

  • The consensus perspective: “projects an image of society as the collective expression of shared norms and values,” also known as “structural functionalism” and based on the work of Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) (16).
  • The conflict perspective: “opposition and conflict define a given society and are necessary for social evolution” (17). This perspective is most closely associated with the theorist Karl Marx (1818-1883).
  • The feminist theory: “seeks to understand and ultimately reduce inequality between men and women” (18).
  • The exchange theory: “sees individuals or groups with different resources, strengths, weaknesses entering into mutual relationships to maximize their own gains” (20).
  • The symbolic interaction theory: this theory focuses on the roles people play in their life (daughter, student, teacher, manager) and how they interact with other individuals to uphold these various roles (20-21).
  •    The modernity theory: “concerns the emergence of the individual as an actor in society and how individuality changed personal and institutional relations”(22).

By using these different theories, what insights do you learn about your own family and those in your community? The chapter also includes two other perspectives, not necessarily theories, “demographic perspective” and “life course perspective.” What information do these perspectives provide about family life?

Studying Families

1375381914372The chapter overviews various methods that sociologists use to gain their information and data about U.S. families. These methods were:

  • sample surveys
  • longitudinal surveys
  • in-depth interviews
  • observation
  • time use studies

Be able to define and understand how each of these methods collect data and what kind of insight each method provides, as well as the information that each method would not capture. Which method would be best for studying various social issues related to the family? If you were going to do a historical analysis of your family, what method would you use and why?

OPTIONAL comments:
In the comments section below, share with us your response to the topics covered in this chapter and how you would use these perspectives to gain further insight into your own family dynamic? How would these theories help you understand families that come from very different backgrounds than your own? What stood out to you about the chapter?

sociologyWelcome to the first module in our online Sociology of the Family course for Fall 2016. This week, our objective is to understand what sociology is as a discipline, the perspective it has, and how it relates to the family. According to the American Sociological Association:

“What Is Sociology?

  • the study of society
  • a social science involving the study of the social lives of people, groups, and societies
  • the study of our behavior as social beings, covering everything from the analysis of short contacts between anonymous individuals on the street to the study of global social processes
  • the scientific study of social aggregations, the entities through which humans move throughout their lives’
  • an overarching unification of all studies of humankind, including history, psychology, and economics”

While sociology is similar to, and may incorporate information from these other fields like psychology and economics, how is it different? What is the difference between sociology and psychology? [Videos for your information, not required, unless stated otherwise.]

While psychology focuses on the individual, their brain functions, and how they exist in a vacuum, or maybe consider their relationships to their parents, sociology studies people in relationships to other people, group relations, and especially, POWER, and how it is exercised through social institutions. What are social institutions? List a few and think about how each one of them create conformist behaviors.

Three of the most important organizing concepts in sociology are: Institutions, Power, and Demographics. 

Religion confusion
Health Care
The Family

Institutions and the Family:
Thinking about these institutions, how do they constrict behaviors and beliefs as they relate to the family? How does schooling impact the family? How does religion impact the family? How does the government constrict the family? How does the military create family structures? How does the family interact with healthcare? How have these institutions shaped your own family? This will be the information that you will write about in your sociological autobiography in the next module.

Institutions and POWER:
How do each of these institutions exercise power over and between people? Power is a central organizing concept as we look at all social relationships, because power is a dynamic between all human interactions and how institutions structure human behavior. How do schools exercise power? How does religion exercise power? How does the government exercise power? How does the health care system exercise power over people?

The sub-groups we are born into, and the bodies in which we inhabit, shape our relationship to others because social aspects and power relationships have been placed over natural embodies states, such as ethnicity, race and gender. Ethnicity is one’s national identity (country into which one was born), one’s national identity which one identifies, if not within the country that one lives in (i.e., immigrant family), and the related cultural aspects of this nation-based identify (food or religion practices).  Race is a social concept that has no biologically proven aspect, but has become an organizing concept in society. People are placed into different racial categories, but these categories are based on the history of the country and how this country has related to certain groups. It does not point to a reality of racial differences, which becomes apparent when we try and understand the racial boundaries and overlaps between groups. For example: “Asians” is a term in the U.S. that captures people that come from dozens of different countries, have different nationalities, cultures, languages, and include all skin colors and races, from black to brown to white, yet in the U.S., they are called by the same term and therefore the treatment and understanding of this group is organized by this categorization. Yet, the categories based on race, ethnicity, and gender have huge impacts on how other people will treat us, and even how we understand ourselves. How have you been taught what ethnicity and racial categories you fall into? Did your parents teach you? Did your school or friends? Did the T.V.? How has your own ethnicity been exercised inside the house and in relation to other institutions? (i.e., how does one exercise their Asian American identity inside the military? Inside school?) How would you be different if you were the opposite gender? How do you perform your gender identity through the clothes you wear, your behavior, and your interests?

In the U.S., which groups are in power? How does that power manifest itself in structural ways (through institutions and laws, for example) and how does power manifest itself through interaction between two people (a teacher and a student, segregation of races, how men and women interact). In whichever categorization of people, some are empowered socially through our history and social institutions. For example, which gender is more empowered in our society: men or women? How is this manifested through institutional structures? How is this created through interpersonal interactions: men and women in the family? When someone goes against these power structures, how are they punished? What happens when someone wants to be outside of the binary of men and women and wants to consider themselves transgender or “genderqueer” (not identifying as strictly woman or man but a mixture of the two). We often do not explicitly speak of power, but in this course, we will want to examine this as a central organizing concept, because it is not only dividing people into different groups and categories, but then assigning supremacy and preference to one of these categories, over others: Men and women, whites and blacks, Americans and Mexicans, and rich and poor. List the different groups you belong to and which ones are dominant and which ones are marginalized? How does it shape your life to come from the dominant white racial group in the U.S.? How would your life be different if you were a different race? How does it shape your relationship to school when you come from an immigrant family?

OPTIONAL comment response:
You have the option after you have set up your account, to leave a comment in the section below, and respond to some of the questions that have been addressed in this module. Also, you can provide a response to a classmates’ comment. What questions do you have from this module? What would you ask your classmates? The comments section below is a space in which we can communicate with each other based on the ideas expressed in this module. Also, feel free to find other information online and post links to additional information that you found useful.

The field of Sociology  by
What  do Sociologists do? By the British Sociological Association